If Love Came Ubidden was first published in Alfred's 1913 book of love poems, Cor Cordium. It also appeared in full, 12 years later, in his anthology, Selected Poems, suggesting it was a favourite of his or his readers, or both. All the love poems in Selected Poems were included in a section titled Love Lyrics.
Widely I've sought you,
Seeking and hiding,
Roses I've brought you,
Roses for blisses,
Ribands for binding,
Sweet are the kisses
Follow the finding.
Often your laughter,
Rippling through bushes,
Guided me after
To the tall rushes;
Where you, low-stooping,
Looked oft behind you,
Fearing yet hoping,
I should soon find you.
If Love unhidden,
Spoiled of the seeking,
Came forth unbidden,
Ripe for the taking,
Who would not mourn him,
Moved with his mildness,
Pass by, and scorn him,
After his wildness?
'Lyric', as defined by Francis Turner Palgrave for The Golden Treasury - a popular Victorian anthology of the genre - is a short poem focused on one particular thought or situation. If specially musical and fit to be sung, it would be regarded a song-lyric, which Philip Hobsbaum would expect to be euphonius, melodic and pleasing to the ear, to the point of calling it "lyric word-music".
If Love Came Unbidden fits that bill. Shakespeare's dirge in Cymbeline is one of many by him and others of his time which is an imitation of the Italian canzone. Donne used it and developed it successfully. So did Keats. After a period of generalised neglect, William Blake would revive the interest in Shakespeare's lyrics and the genre, which flourished again in the Romantic period, towards the end of the 18th century.
Alfred Williams set this three-stanza poem to a typically alternating rhyme pattern, in this case the simple ababcdcd. The rhythmic pattern trots as a faultless trochaic + amphibrach (dumdah + dahdumdah) for as long as the hide and seek frolic in the garden goes on - eleven lines to a dot.
By the middle of the second stanza (line 12), however, at the precise moment the view zooms in to the woman in hiding, the stress layout is disturbed completely and pounds out four stressed syllables in one breath - a drum-and-bass translation of the woman's bated breath and pounding heart as she is found among the rushes by her lover in pursuit.
The next threee lines relax the pulse by dregrees: two strong accents together, then a pause inserted between them. Interestingly, the pattern is two identical twin stanzas, except for a minor variation in their fourth line - again drawing attention to that centre axis of the stanza where interest might sag. Either Alfred the poet had an exquisite musical instinct or the form awareness of an interior designer. Or both!
As in a musical performance, the rhythm section does the background heartbeat for the ensemble of melodic instruments. The tunes played by vowels and consonants provide the texture for the sound structure.
End-of-line rhymes are mostly obvious and easy to pick up, especially when they are as strong as kisses/blisses, binding/finding, laughter/after. However, there is a subtle handling of the rhyme working in co-operation with the rhythm. At that critical point of the middle stanza, the fast-tied rhyme suddenly loosens to a slant rhyme where only the weak last consonants and vowel properly rhyme: bushes/rushes; stooping/hoping, and in the next stanza, seeking/taking. It keeps it from cloying.
Other rhyming effects weave through the poem in the form of alliterations (follow/finding, mourn/move/mildness, would/with/wildness) and pararhymes (ribbands/binding/undiving/after/oft).
But the poem is not all sound fireworks. The form fleshes out the meaning credibly, not as superfluous padding. In the last stanza of his The Garden Of Love, William Blake bemoaned how a well-loved garden has been turned into a churchyard:
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be,
And priests with black gowns were walking their rounds
And binding with briars my joys and desires.
We have no way of knowing if Blake's lyric echoed in the back of Alfred's mind, but both have chosen a garden as the symbolic setting for romantic love. Whether coincidentally, accidentally or intentionally, Alfred has used some of the same lexic - binding and joy, the reference to flowers and, earlier, rushes. But while Blake's poem is employed as complaint against formalised legalistic religion, Alfred's concern is with the follies of sensual love.
His approach to the loved woman is, to start with, an earnest and committed offering for passionate unity; he brings joys undividing/roses for blisses/ribbands for binding, is full of expectations and promise - follow the finding - but sees himself drawn into a game of giddy flirtation that sends mixed signals: he is all keen, she is low-stooping, undecided between fear and hope.
Strained and weary of the game (spoiled of the seeking), the poet takes a step back to consider how worthy of scorn it would be to let oneself loose - if love... came forth unbidden - and wildy abandon oneself to a passion with no guarantees, the unbidden or unrequested love mentioned in the first line of the last stanza.
The smoothly turned jog of the poem is not without its conceits, as seen in the advantage taken of the different meanings of unbidden, and the antithetic oppositions which Alfred so favoured - seeking/hiding, tall/low-stooping, fearing/hoping, mildness/wildness, moved/mourn/scorn - that serve to express the tensions suffered by the poet.
Introducing Cristina Newton
Alphabetical list of poems online